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Photography, Veganism & Conservation

Updated: Dec 17, 2022

These three subjects are all close to my heart, so let’s start by briefly looking at each one;

Photography – For me, this is all about capturing the world to tell a story. Photos have a huge impact on us as humans, they can evoke memories of joy and pain, good and bad emotions and they can provoke deep thoughts. More and more, this is starting to include videos, moving pictures, which add a whole new layer and activates another sense with sound. This why I am a photographer, to reach people, to share stories and make connections.

Veganism – At its root, veganism is “seeking to exclude – as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals…” However, for me, it goes further than that. My view includes helping others to see the harm and suffering they are causing and to help them switch to a vegan lifestyle to create a world where no animal needs to suffer unimaginable torment for the pleasure and comfort of human beings.

Conservation – The official definition of “conservation” is wide-ranging, but in this case we will focus on the protecting of species, their habitats and the ecosystems that surround them. With that in mind, veganism is, in many ways, about the conservation of the human species as much as it is the farm animals, safari and marine animals we often associate with conservation.


In my view, these three things are all intrinsically linked. Veganism and Conservation go hand in hand, you shouldn’t have one without the other if you call yourself an “animal lover” and photography is the tool I choose to use to spread the word, highlight the issues and share the beautiful rescue stories and personalities I meet on my sanctuary visits.


A Brief History of Photography and Conservation

Wildlife photography is the practice of visually documenting wildlife in their natural habitat and has been around since the late 1800s. Two early practitioners of wildlife photography were brothers Richard & Cherry Kearton and in 1895 they published the first natural history book illustrated entirely by photographs taken in the wild. As you can imagine, some of the lengths these two brothers had to go to back then, with the cameras as they were, are hilarious and one, entirely non-vegan friendly, solution was to have a butcher skin a bison and then send it to a taxidermist, creating their own portable hide they would hide in for hours at a time. With no telephoto lenses, they had to get as close as possible to their subjects and this often resulted in attacks from birds, dangling above rocks, sleeping in trees.

Sepia photograph of two photographers in the 1890s, one standing on the shoulders of the other to get a different angle for a photograph
Richard & Cherry Kearton

Although many of their methods would be questioned today, both from vegan and conservation viewpoints, their work and innovative approach brought photos and recordings of animals which were firsts and they both went on to have successful careers in photography and filmmaking.

Another major marker in the history of wildlife photography was July 1906, when National Geographic published wildlife photos for the very first time.

Throughout history, particularly kickstarting in the late 1800s as well, photography has developed into a powerful tool for empowering conservation, both environmental and wildlife conservation. Carleton Watkins and his landscape photos played a key role in Yosemite becoming a National Park in 1864 and the photos of the ever-popular Ansel Adams helped to advocate for the extension of the park.

Famous landscape photographer Ansel Adams composes a shot
Ansel Adams

However, it wasn’t until October 2005 that “Conservation Photography” became a formalized discipline, with the founding of the International League of Conservation Photographers by Cristina Mittermeier. A photographer called Joel Sartore described conservation photography in the following way:


“the typical nature photograph shows a butterfly on a pretty flower. The conservation photograph shows the same thing, but with a bulldozer coming at it in the background. This doesn’t mean there’s no room for beautiful pictures, in fact we need beautiful images just as much as the issues. It does mean that the images exist for a reason; to save Earth while we still can.”


While conservation photography covers a broad range of subjects, as vegans, the primary targets of our photographs will be animals and wildlife, as well as the impact the use and farming of those animals has on the environment. Fast forward to 2019 and We Animals Media was founded.


A Brief History of Veganism and Photography

When many people think of vegan photography, they think of photos of pretty vegan food. When people think of photojournalism, they think of images of war zones and reporters in bullet proof jackets. Not many people combine the two, but that is what Jo-Anne McArthur has done with We Animals Media and has subsequently inspired hundred, if not thousands, of photographers to take up the same mantle.

If you have read my previous posts or follow me on social media, you will already know about We Animals Media and what they do, but just in case you’re new, here is what their website says:


As the world’s leading animal photojournalism agency, it is our mission to document the stories of animals in the human environment — those used for food, fashion, entertainment, and experimentation — and to connect those stories to the individuals and organizations who can amplify their reach.

Headshot photo of Canadian animal photojournalist Jo-Anne McArthur
Jo-Anne McArthur

Jo-Anne is one of the leading lights in animal photojournalism and has won multiple awards over recent years, as well as publishing several books and working on films too. Her work, and that of all We Animals Media Contributors helps highlight the horrendous world we create for the animals we should be protecting, as well as the effect that is having on the world around us. Not only are we taking the photos and video footage, but We Animals makes them widely available to animal charities and organizations around the world, thereby helping to spread a vegan message further.



A grey kangaroo and her joey stand on a path in a burned eucalyptus forest during the Australian Bush Fires of 2020
Hope in a Burned Forest - Jo-Anne McArthur

Rattlesnake skins and bloody hands on a wall at an event in Texas
Wall of Shame - Jo-Anne McArthur

So, hopefully you can see how conservation goes hand in hand with promoting a more vegan world, both aim to save animals from humans and to protect the environment. The beauty of photography is that, as photographers, we can show the world as we see it. We can, sometimes literally, shine a light on the issues which face us and the animals under our protection.

As photographers and filmmakers, we can use our lenses to show the wider world what the people responsible try to hide. We can visually show you what happens behind the scenes on a farm. We can visually show you what happens in a slaughterhouse. We can visually show you the suffering at live markets. We can visually show you what happens to animals in circuses and sports. We can visually also show you the personalities of those animals who have been saved. We can visually show you their eyes as they greet the volunteers who saved them. We visually show you them hanging out with their new friends. This side of the story is where I focus my efforts.

An Ancona ducks enjoys a bath in her own private little pool at Dean Farm Trust Animal Sanctuary
Juney - James Gibson/We Animals Media

As humans, we are the guardians of this planet and we are failing miserably. Animal exploitation is only a part of the problem, but it is a significant part of the problem. Through photography I, and other photographers and filmmakers, aim to show people just what we are doing to the world and every single one of it’s inhabitants.


This is the last post before Christmas, I hope you have enjoyed them over the last few weeks and I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy new year!


Best wishes,


James

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